There is a substantial body of literature on how policy elites engage in policy-making. Moreover, there are numerous textbooks that purport to teach students the proper methods and techniques of policy analysis. However, empirical studies of the work of ‘ordinary,’ mid-level policy workers, inside or outside government, remain rare. This book is part of a small, but growing body of research that seeks to remedy this situation, which includes Page and Jenkins’ Policy Bureaucracy: Government with a Cast of Thousands (2005), and more particularly, Colebatch's The Work of Policy: An International Survey (2006). This book builds on these earlier studies of policy work, adding new perspectives and findings.
First, we have tried to detect whether contemporary accounts of policy work deviate from traditional accounts of policy-making and policy analysis or not. We trace the potential influences of government reforms, such as the drive for New Public Management and the shift towards network governance. We looked at policy work in different countries (mostly the Netherlands, but also Canada and the United States) and in different settings where these trends occur. This includes policy work in the increasingly important setting of transnational regimes, particularly the European Union.
Second, from a more analytical angle, the book explicitly focuses on processes of account giving in the study of policy-making. It focuses on how we – both observers and participants – perceive, frame and actively construe the intrinsically ambiguous phenomenon known as ‘policy.’ It also shows that we are politically and professionally socialized to apply a few standardized and taken-for-granted accounts.
Third, by focusing on the account giving of both observers (scholars and researchers) and participants (practitioners and policy workers), the book seeks to improve the troubled dialogue between the scientific study of public policy and practical policy work.
Fourth, the book focuses primarily on individual policy workers, and on the day-to-day practices that make up policy. We are especially interested in the potentially innovative capacity of policy work. Although policy workers have to act within the constraints of organizational routines and the structured interactions of politics and administration, they must be seen as essentially ‘agents’ that enact policy realities that structure and potentially innovate and change subsequent policy acts.